The Gwinnett Gladiators hosted the Kalamazoo Wings in the first of a two-game set Saturday night at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, and the ECHL South Division leading Gladiators came away with a 4-2 victory. This was the first meeting between the two clubs this season.
Kalamazoo (15-18-2-1) came in on a two-game winning streak but Gwinnett (25-12-1-0) started quickly, scoring 3:54 into the first period to take a 1-0 advantage. Alex Belzile and Doug Jones teamed up for the first of two goals in the period when Belzile put Jones’ perfect centering pass past K-Wings goalie Joel Martin (L, 14-15-2-1). Kalamazoo evened the score at the 13:15 mark when Brian Bicek slipped the puck by Glads netminder Mike Lee (W, 12-9-1-0) with help from John Kivisto and Alexandre Grenier.
Belzile put Gwinnett back on top with 4:52 remaining in the stanza when he uncorked a shot from the right wing circle past Martin for his second goal of the night and fifth of the season. Jones and team captain Andy Brandt had the assists on the play. The first intermission came with the home team up 2-1.
Gwinnett pushed the lead to 3-1 at 10:19 of the second period when Cody Carlson put a rebound past Martin for his second goal of the season. Justin Weller earned his second assist with Gwinnett. Joey Haddad, playing with the Glads for the first time since November 7th, notched an insurance goal at 11:54 of the middle period. Carlson and Casey Pierro-Zabotel had the helpers on the lamplighter.
The second period came to an end with the home team holding a comfortable 4-1 lead.
The K-Wings cut the Glads lead to 4-2 on Jeff Pierce’s power play goal at 11:07 of the third period. Alexandre Mallet had an assist on Pierces’ first score of the season. Despite 15 shots on goal in the final period, the Wings were unable to score again as Lee made 14 saves in the period. The third period buzzer sounded with the Gladiators on top 4-2.
ECHL All-Star Mike Lee saved 27 shots in the Gwinnett win, while Joel Martin stopped 19 of 23 shots in the Kalamazoo loss. The Glads were 1-for-3 on the power play, while killing off 8-of 9 Wings power play chances.
First Star: GWT –22 Alex Bezile (2 goals)
Second Star: GWT – 34 Cody Carlson (1 assist)
Third Star: GWT – 30 Mike Lee (27 saves)
Gwinnett and Kalamazoo will square off again Sunday at the Arena for the final of the two-game set.
The Gladiators are the ECHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League and play home games at the 11,355-seat Arena at Gwinnett Center, located just off I-85 on Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth. The ECHL is the Premier "AA" League.